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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

has social democracy exhausted itself? « Previous | |Next »
July 20, 2010

The idea that the state can play a significant role in its citizens’ lives without imperiling their liberties is a core tenet of social democracy that the ALP has defended, and often breached. 'Defend' is a key word here.

The ALP is on the defensive ---preserving the institutions, legislation, services and rights that we have inherited from the 20th-century reform, most notably the welfare state which helped to civilise capitalism. It does by deploying a politics of fear. Defend is a key word because in the context of climate change traditional social democracy looks to have exhausted itself.

In this excerpt in the New York Review of Books from his Ill Fares the Land Tony Judt says:

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.

He adds that much of what appears “natural” today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric that accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.

He adds:

We cannot go on living like this. The little crash of 2008 was a reminder that unregulated capitalism is its own worst enemy: sooner or later it must fall prey to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue. But if we do no more than pick up the pieces and carry on as before, we can look forward to greater upheavals in years to come.

If in public policy social democrats believe in the possibility and virtue of collective action for the collective good, then they have failed badly in terms of addressing climate change. The ALP critiques those who extol the virtues of deregulation, the minimal state, and low taxation, defends the public sector on grounds of collective interest and challenges those in the Liberal Party and business who say that the point of life is to get rich and that governments exist to facilitate this.

But the ALP has beat a tactical retreat on climate change, even though Australia citizens need the resources of the state to adapt to global warming and they need the state to protect them from the consequences of a hot and parched world.

The ALP knows that climate change cannot be addressed by unregulated markets (unfettered capitalism) or individual action, but it has been crippled by fear from the campaign waged by the climate-change deniers who have rejected the science of global warming, embraced junk science and whose key bullet point is that global warming is some sort of giant intellectual fraud hatched by Leftists and Greenies to destroy industrial society.

Has social democracy exhausted itself?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:29 AM | | Comments (10)


Mike Gonzalez, Vice President of Communications for Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank indicates how far the conservative movement has gone of the deep end. He says on his blog that proposals for a a “cap-and-trade” scheme rest on a single assumption.

This that that traditional fuels will have cataclysmic consequences on the environment because they emit gases that make the world too hot.The authority to turn this assumption into fact rested largely on a U.N. document - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report - which declared climate change “unequivocal” and its man-made origin “very likely.” The purpose of the IPCC report was to turn hypothesis into fact... The IPCC’s turning of hypothesis into fact now looks less like the scientific process and more like the magician you paid $50 an hour to pull flowers out of hats at your daughter’s birthday.

The IPCC report was a summary of existing scientific literature — its conclusions are those of the world’s scientists. What Gonzales is doing here with his phrase to “turn this assumption into fact" is to completely rejection of any concept of a scientific method: a procedure by which ideas (hypotheses) may be tested against the real world and either rejected or found to be true.

For him the the idea that humans burning fossil fuels are causing the world to warm is merely an opinion.

Unfortunately POLITICS seems to have exhausted itself in wealthy countries. It's as if most people are quite content to let the ruling class get on with it because it's all too remote from them to bother with. As long as they have an election occasionally, they'll kid themselves they live in a free democracy.

I disagree with Judt's claim that sooner or later capitalism must 'turn again to the state for rescue'. It implies that the state is something separate and distinct from capitalism. In fact the state is deeply embedded in the monopoly capitalist system as an enabler of wealth accumulation and a defender against free markets.

Coincidentally, the 'Washington Post' is running a story about the extent to which national security agencies in the US and their private sector contractors have created an enormous, secret executive authority that is unaccountable to anybody. This is the structure of modern society - bureaucrats and big business colluding to accumulate wealth and power while 'politics' consists of pointless arguments like yesterday's Burchill piece and claims that Julia Gillard has changed her dress style.

We're facing some real problems if we don't rethink the way we live. For now, we continue to behave live spoilt children.

And "sustainable" is just the latest word to be co-opted by the self-serving politicians.

Still, it's good to see that some people are asking the tricky questions...

"Capitalism has completely done away with this traditional reality of human existence. In capitalism, the welfare of a large proportion of society is simply ignored or openly put at risk. The capitalist views the low-wage worker and the unemployed person as just another resource to be subjugated and exploited, along with the rest of nature...."

The deniers argument was that the science was uncertain and insufficient and so it would be wrong for the government to interfere in the market place to regulate industry. They were the doubt mongers. If science is uncertain, then there must be be something wrong with science because science provides positive proof and truth.

And the doubt mongers have been very successful with creating doubt about science to ensure that no action is taken by the state.

The Australian has added to this campaign of creating doubt about science by suggesting that the science of global warming is uncertain because the scientists were corrupt, had acted dishonestly. Therefore the science could not be trusted.

The Australian’s war on science indicates that it cannot, or is unable or unwilling, to separate its news coverage from its editorial views. They are ideologues.

Bread and circus.

Or... in the case of a popular TV cheftravaganza... a circus about bread!


Mars08, Ten's decision is surely born of ignorance born of arrogance which derives of ignorance.
Media Watch has had stories run at the conduct of seven and nine lately. Same absolute absence of ethics, while people are now roaring in frustration also at the deterioration of public broadcasting since the neolibs got their claws into that, too.
I can see Ken might not as fond of roast beef is he must once have been.
What's chilling about the Wshington post article is that it's no longer presented as a nasty abherration of the Cheney Bush era, but an inmmutable fact upon which all else is predicated.

We find a depressed Paul Kelly writing in The Australian about the collapse of the neo-liberal vision. Kelly's narrative has been that neo-liberalism was the pathway to the future, given the rejection of the Australian Settlement by social democracy. It is a Hayekian narrative of the institutions of social democracy being rolled back by neo-liberalism, whjoich stood for the future. Kelly says:

The debate of the past 48 hours is that of a nation mired in complacency and psychologically divorced from the profound economic crisis now engulfing Britain, Europe and America.The Labor Party and the trade union movement have won the labour market debate and anyhopes for genuine reform seem postponed for many years.This will undermine over time Australia's economic future with the 2010 election proving again that the story of modern politics is the sacrifice of national interest policy on the altar of short-term poll driven politics.

Disaster looms with the rejection of neoliberal policies on industrial relations.
Having won the 2007 election with a massive assault on Work Choices, Labor has now intimidated the muscular Abbott into an abject backdown... The consequences upon Abbott's retreat are far-reaching. He is not just conceding labour market reform is a negative.

it is a negative because because the outlook for job creating labour market reforms is gloomy.The problem lies in Australia's success. With unemployment at 5.2 per cent and assumed to be heading back towards 4 per cent there is no strong constituency for labour market liberalisation.

The neo-liberal vision is a business one: workplace reform is a crucial mechanism for keeping the economy competitive. A competitive economy is one with a flexible labor market. A competitive economy is the best way to deliver economic growth. Economic growth is the goal of public policy.

The Liberal Party was expected to deliver this vision. Things have turned out otherwise. In The Australian Peter Van Onselen says:

I could have abided machine men in the parliamentary Liberal Party deciding to surrender on the IR front -- they often stand for winning power over the goal of doing something with it. But Abbott is supposed to be different. He wrote a book about ideological battle lines; he has a reputation as a conviction politician prepared to argue for unpopular causes. He was a Howard government IR minister. Abbott is the last person who should have sold out the business community on IR reform from the conservative side of parliament.

The Australian is just waking up to the fact that Abbott is a big state conservative, not a classical small state, free market liberal. They are blinkered about what conservatism means.

Onselen goes on to say that:

the conservatives really have given up the mantle of being the party of business. It can claim to be the party of the miners, but Liberals have abandoned the interests of other sections of the business world...

He ends by saying that if the Liberals won't stand up for workplace reform, why bother ever electing them?

The Australian , rants and raves about the lack of workplace reform, re-regulation of the workforce and the power of the unions.

All this creates the conditions for wage inflation. As growth picks up, unions will use their privileged position to push for higher wages with no matching increase in productivity. They did it in the early 1980s, strangling economic growth

Neoliberalism is decaying.